by Matt Hayes
As the Volunteers of America’s Outreach Counselor, it is Mark Budzar’s job to help those homeless, mostly men, who do not use the shelter system. He works with the homeless who are on the streets due to drug addiction, mental illness, or who just do not want do deal with rules or other people at the shelters. He drives the VOA van throughout the city in search of those who may need help. “I try to provide those guys with whatever services are available.”
Budzar started the job about six months ago and in that time has made contact with almost 500 people on the streets. If he sees traces of people living somewhere on the streets, he will leave a box containing blankets, shirts, a letter about VOA and other necessary items. He later returns to see if the box has been taken and will eventually try to make contact with the person. Budzar also offers rides to work or other appointments for those in need of transportation.
Budzar, who took a degree in Criminal Justice from Cincinnati, found out about the job through a friend. One of the things that drew him to the job was the opportunity to offer direct help to people. “A lot of the job is just talking to people. They just want someone to talk to. You have to build a rapport with them, earn their respect.” Another aspect of the job Budzar enjoys is the diversity every day can bring. “Every single day is different. I’m always running into new people.”
The outreach job is most rewarding for Budzar when he sees people move on to a life of independence. “We had a guy who just bought a house.” Another man who has been homeless for six years has decided to move into VOA after five months of contact with Budzar. It may not be the end of his problems but it is a step in the right direction. On the other hand, the job can be frustrating to Budzar when he makes a lot of effort or goes out of his way to help someone but they refuse to accept it. “It’s time wasted. It could have been spent on someone else. But you’ve got to try.”
He is also perplexed by the lack of shelter space available for women with children. He recently had a call from a woman who had four children and was seven months pregnant but could not get them into a shelter. “It’s like being on a sinking ship and we’re throwing out the women and children.” The ever-increasing number of homeless people on the streets also can be frustrating. “Last night we (VOA) took care of 50 people. But that’s only 50 and they say there are thousands out there.”
One of the biggest problems that Budzar has encountered on the streets is the use of crack cocaine. “Crack’s a killer. It’s unbelievable.” He estimates that a large majority of the men he encounters on the streets have smoked it at one point in their lives. Many have mental illness and some are ex-cons who never learned how to re-enter into society. Others tell him they’d like to get off the streets but don’t like the rules in the shelters and some just prefer to be on their own.
Budzar admits that he has to be cautious about where he goes by himself on the streets but also respects that some people want to be left alone. “If I see where someone is staying I’m not going to go into their zone unless I get to know them. I don’t feel like I have a right to go down there. That’s their space. They’re down there for a reason and want to be left alone. I wasn’t taught that, I learned that.”
Most of the men Budzar encounters on the streets tell him that better paying jobs and cheaper housing would give them an opportunity to get off the streets. But Mark also stresses that many need to stay sober and stop using drugs in order to make the transition back into society. Another thing that people take for granted that the homeless do not have is regular access to a phone. “It’s 1996, they need a way to keep in touch with prospective employers.” The ever-increasing number of homeless on our streets can at times make Budzar’s job seem hopeless but as he stated earlier, “You’ve got to try.”
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine published Spring 1996 – Issue 15